There is a bridge over the river coming from Franklin Square, just outside of Downtown Syracuse. It overlooks the brick sidewalk to Freedom of Espresso and the big Ben Franklin statue in the courtyard. On the other side of this bridge is an immense mirror-windowed building: 500 Plum Street.
You enter the large doors and the first tenant on your right is behind a clear glass door with the contraction “Brazzlebox” etched behind on the wall. For most, it is a puzzle, but for Glen Zinszer, it is history in the making.
What is Brazzlebox?
It started, as most great ideas do, on a napkin.
“By small business, for small business,” Brazzlebox (the name stemming from Glen’s daughter’s mispronunciation of the puppet series Fraggle Rock) is “the exclusive social network for small and home based business.”
“I have been a local small business owner all my life,” Zinszer said, having owned and operated a local retail store and successful insurance firm. “I often needed solutions for the basic day-to-day problems of operating a small business, and I needed help.”
At the time, there was the phone book, and the store owner next door to talk to.
“After reflecting on my own difficulties in the local business world, I thought – ‘What if there was a way for businesses to interact with each other locally and create a community of sharing ideas and information?’” Brazzlebox was born.
Since its conception, Zinszer raised over $1.2 million dollars in purely local funding.
“That’s big even for a Silicon Valley startup,” he said. Family, friends and experienced business people all heard the elevator speech and said, “We think you’ve got something.”
Completely integrated with existing popular social networks, Brazzlebox allows small and home-based business owners to create profiles on the platform and setup their own custom community based not only on their location but their industry, establishing an instant network of support and ideas.Charlene Barkley, Director of Advertising for Brazzlebox, believes the company is satisfying a need for local businesses to interact with each other.
“We are filling a void here,” Barkley said. “People overshare updates on social media these days and there really isn’t a community by which local shops can interact with each other and attract new business.”
Zinszer pointed out that roughly 70% of Facebook usage is while someone is bored in the bathroom. Though the social giant will never die, he said, it is time for something that fills the vacuum.
“Other platforms really weren’t created for the small business market,” Zinszer said. “The ability to perform as a business entity was more of an afterthought and subsequently cumbersome.”
Through this new network, businesses will be able to interact with each other locally and discover tips from similar businesses worldwide.
Making it Happen
“People won’t get out of their car to check out a new store they’ve never been to,” Zinszer said. “However, they will check it out if their phone or their computer tells them to. Brazzlebox is that medium.”
The budding tech firm launched a beta test last April which met with great success. They’ve attracted advisors from Google, a host of investors, and already signed contracts without their pages being completely developed. The network is set to launch in August of this year.
Zinszer commented on the rise of the niche social media. “First there were generic dating websites,” he said, “Then Christian Mingle, Farmers Only, and a host of new sites dedicated to particular demographics. Despite the success of Facebook and LinkedIn, there really is no effective local business incubator out there online.”
The company plans to roll out a mobile version of the platform shortly after the launch this August. The network will support paid ads, targeting local niche markets in an “affordable, efficient, and effective” manner – the three buzzwords of the “biz.” Their analytics for seeing who is interacting with a client’s page are “designed after the best we’ve ever seen.”
“I used to get reeled in to paying a lot of money on snail mail that never brought in a return on investment,” Zinszer said. “We are putting together a package that will give owners a front row seat to their target market with only about ten bucks.”
The initial signup is free with other “bell and whistle” additions added for a small charge.
The company is sponsoring a local social media awareness campaign to promote “going local” via updates and pictures of local goods named after its hashtag #iBuyCNY.
“We think we’ve really got something here,” Zinszer said. “Something that people really need.”
After posing for a few photos, Zinszer was asked about the many Star Wars bobble-heads around his Mac. “I’m a big fan,” he said.
“We really think this is going to catch on quick both locally and nationally at the local level,” he added, “And who knows: Brazzlebox Norway, Brazzlebox Sweden, Brazzlebox Japan!”
Of course, if you think “outside the box,” truly, the sky is the limit.
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A former Internet Marketing Manager, Joe Cunningham is a dad, a screenwriter, playwright and all-around adventurer. He blogs for Kinani Blue, charms Google at Terakeet and enjoys running through the city. You can follow him on Twitter at @IndianaJoe77 or he can be reached at [email protected].